“The first quarter shows growth once more ahead of our markets. This reflects our continued investment in both innovations and brand support, and reconfirms the strength of our long term sustainable compounding growth model,” said CEO Paul Polman. “The change program ‘Connected for Growth’, which we started implementing in the autumn last year, is clearly bearing fruit and is making Unilever more agile and closer to the local markets, unlocking both further growth and margin.”
According to Unilever, the actions it is taking will keep the company“on track for another year of underlying sales growth ahead of our markets, in the 3–5% range. We also expect an improvement in underlying operating margin this year of at least 80 basis points and strong cash flow. We are raising the dividend by 12%, reflecting the confidence in our outlook.”
Personal care continued to grow the core while expanding in high-growth segments and building in premium positions, noted Unilever. Oral care had a good start to the year, supported by innovations such as the new Signal White Now Care Correction teeth whitening range with blue light technology in France. In skin, Baby Dove was introduced to the US and UK, and is now present in 14 markets, while the new Lifebuoy with Activ Silver formula for enhanced germ-protection was rolled out across Asia.
Continued growth in deodorants was driven by new variants of dry sprays in North America and Dove deodorants with improved formulation, making them our most skin-friendly antiperspirant. In hair, growth was driven by Sunsilk, helped by variants that meet the needs of Muslim consumers and the expansion into natural propositions that has driven increased penetration among millennials. Our prestige business continued to perform in line with our plans.
Unilever’s Home Care delivered good growth despite a strong comparator, enabled by continued market development and benefit-led innovations that address emerging needs, including the growing trend towards natural products. In laundry, growth was driven by strong performances of the fabric conditioner Comfort in our Asian markets and the value brand Brilhante in Latin America that caters to hard-pressed consumers. The roll-out of Surf into Central and Eastern Europe continued to perform well.
Household care remained a strong growth contributor to Home Care, driven by the successful roll-out of Domestos toilet blocks, which have now reached 25 countries. Our acquisitions have landed well. The air purification brand Blueair grew strongly in China, while Seventh Generation, the natural proposition, was introduced to the UK.